Sixth Annual Django Reinhardt NY Festival

By Robert L Daniels

(Birdland; 150 capacity; $30)

A presentation of Wild Turkey. Produced by Pat Phillips and Ettore Stratta. Musical director, Brian Torff. Opened, reviewed Nov. 8, 2005. Runs through Nov. 13.

Musicians: Dorado Schmitt, Ludovic Beier, Angelo Debarre, Pierre Blanchard, Samson Schmitt, Tchavolo Hassan.

A distinctive group of European musicians is celebrating the life and legacy of legendary Belgian-born Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who died in 1953. Violinist Pierre Blanchard and guitarist Dorado Schmitt, who will lead a Reinhardt program at L.A.’s Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday, pulled off a true re-creation of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France that worked as a dutiful salute to Reinhardt and another master, Stephane Grappelli.

Opener featured Angelo Debarre on electric guitar and Ludovic Beier on accordion with Reinhardt melody “Fantasie.” Beier’s lines were richly tailored with passionate romanticism. In a duet on “Hungarian Rhapsody,” the musicians captured the humor and folksy legacy of a Gypsy campfire.

Blanchard and Schmitt journeyed from the delicate strains of the Charles Aznavour ballad “Mourair d’aim” to “Melodie au crepuscule (Love’s Melody),” bathing both in a sublimely melodic moonlight reverie. The latter tune, long attributed to Django, was most likely composed by brother Joseph “Nin-Nin” Reinhardt, according to jazz historian Michael Dregni, author of the first major critical bio of the guitarist, published last year.

Blanchard played with dazzling fluidity and an infectiously colorful improvisational technique. He not only re-created the pliant bite that was Grappelli’s signature, he added a brightly nuanced flavor that displayed his own sense of style. “Bossa Dorado,” a contemporary composition by Schmitt, conceived in the Django Reinhardt mood, revealed the guitarist’s loping, languorous strength.

Debarre and clarinetist Ken Peplowski returned to join the ensemble for a rompin’ take on “Minor Swing,” and Joel Frahm on tenor sax made it an octet for “Dark Eyes.”

Throughout, the sturdy, confident bass accompaniment by musical director Brian Torff and the fiercely chomping rhythm guitar of Samson Schmitt served as a platform that lifted the soloists to soaring heights.

Birdland fest continues with guests Roger Kellaway on Friday, Frahm returning Saturday and Dominick Farinacci on Sunday.

Guests:, Ken Peplowski, Joel Frahm.